The book opens and it introduces Santiago, often referred to as the old man, a lonely and poor fisherman that has not caught a fish in 84 days and is considered unlucky or salao as referred in the book. The old man is personified as thin, scarred, gaunt, with deep wrinkles, generally his features are one of an old man who has worked as a fisherman for his whole life, yet his eyes remain blue like the sea, remain “cheerful and undefeated.” Manolin, often referred to as the boy by Santiago, has been Santiago’s fishing partner since he was five until recently.
The boy wants to resume working with the old man but the boys parents, knowing that the old man has had bad luck recently, doesn’t allow him to. Although the boy is prohibited to work with the old man, the boy helps the old man by caring his equipment and buying him food. One night, the boy buy a beer for the old man and they converse on the early days of their fishing, times in which the old man had better luck, and other talk about fishing. The old man goes into depth about the boys first experience fishing and the enormous fish they caught on that adventure. The boy, still feeling sad for the old man’s situation, begs the old man to grab sardines and hooks for future fishing missions which the old man accepts with humility. The boy and the return to the old man’s bare shed with his fishing supplies. The old man’s shed has barley any furnishings, has a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and one of the Virgin of Cobre.
The boy realizes that the picture of his wife has been removed due to the old man being to lonely when looking at it. The boy asks the old man about what he is going to eat for dinner which the old man replies tallow rice with fish. The boy knows that the old man has no food, yet the old man says he does.
This of asking for food seems to be a common routine. The conversation then turns to baseball, a topic of interest for both the boy and the old man. DiMaggio, a baseball player who used to visit the Terrace, is idolized by both of them is mentioned various times mainly due to his father being a fisherman. After discussing baseball for a good while, the boy exclaims that the old man is the greatest fisherman of all time. The boy leaves the old man goes to sleep and dreams about a fishing trip he took when he was young in which he saw lions in Africa.
The old man goes to the boys house in the morning to wake him up to fish. The two carry the old mans gear to the boat and stop to have a drink of coffee on the way. The old man is confident in his venture and the two say good luck to each other. The old man sets assail to the deep waters of the Gulf Stream. The old man sees flying fish which he considers his friends and envy’s the skinny birds who attempt to catch the fish. The old man the goes on to explain his love for the ocean even though it may be cruel to him from time to time.
The old man sets his bait at various precise depths. The old man sees man animals and fish on his ventures onto the depths of the Gulf Stream including flyingfish, dolphins, seabirds, Sargasso weed, and jellyfish type creatures. The man uses a seabird as a guide to find proper hunting fish. Finally the old man catches a tuna, which he exclaims out loud “makes an excellent bait”. The old man then contemplates when his habit of talking to himself started and how other fisherman would find him crazy if they heard him talk. The old man still believes he is sane even though he talks to himself. The old man realizes that the shore is no longer viewable, yet he continues to go farther from the shore.
Suddenly the stick which marked the string that reached 100 fathoms deep tightens and dips down dramatically. The old man realizes that the fish, which he identifies as a marlin, is most likely of great size and prays to god that the fish will take the bait. Eventually, the fish takes the bait, and starts pulling the boat. The old man attempts to pull the string but gains nothing, soon after the fish drags the rope deeper. The old man holds the line, ready to give the fish slack if nesicary, as the fish pulls the boat farther from shore throughout the entire day and night. Throughout the struggle with the fish, he wishes that the boy was with to witness this great struggle with the fish. The old man eventually begins to think of the great battle with the fish as his brother. The old man then begins to think of the last time he caught a marlin; the female marlin took the bait and when the old man reeled the fish in the male fish stood by the females side and swam with the boat in mourning.
This memory makes the old man sad but he stays strong and continues to pursue the marlin even if it takes him to the middle of nowhere. Another day begins and the fish has not gotten any closer to the boat yet the old man cannot increase the tension or the line might break and all of his effort would be useless. The old man hopes that the marlin would jump out of the water due to its air sacks would fill which would make the fish lighter. The old man respects and even loves the fish but is nevertheless determined to kill it. A warbler, a small bird, lands on the old man’s boat. The old man believes that the warbler is innocent and young and doesn’t know of the dangerous hawks that may pursue it if it approaches land. The old man says out loud to the bird to rest up before heading to shore.
Suddenly, the marlin surges up nearly forcing the old man overboard and the warbler departs. The marlin’s surge cut the old mans right hand and soon after moving the ropes straining to his left hand, it cramps. The old man that he has to eat to regain strength so he eats the tuna he caught earlier to gain strength. The old man looks at the vast ocean surrounding him and thinks that he is alone. He soon realizes no man can be alone at sea when a flight of ducks passes him. The old man then realizes that the fishing line has moved in such a way that indicates that fish is coming to the surface. The fish suddenly leaps out of the air, and the old man is astonished on how large and great the fish truly is. The fish, who the old man declares “great”, is very strong and the old man vows never to let the fish know his magnificent strength.
Later that day the old man recites ten Hail Mary’s, ten Our Fathers, and promises that he will make pilgrimage to virgin of Cobre, even though he claims that he is not religious. The old man then attempts to catch another meal in case the battle will go on for more days. The end of the second day of struggle with the marlin is near and the old man’s thoughts turn baseball and DiMaggio, who he believes plays well even with his bone spur.
The old man then recalls the glorious arm wrestling match that took all night to finish. The old man was awarded the name El Campeon, “The Champion” in English, when he won the battle. The old man then catches a dolphin and saves the meat for the following day. Santigo is confedent that he can take on the marlin eve though his whole body is numb. The atars come out, and the old man believes that the stars, as well as the marlin, are his friends. The old man feels bad for marlin, yet he determined to kill it. Santigo believes that the marlin, able to feed many, is not worth